Thursday, September 14, 2006


Screening New Hires For Emotional Intelligence

The next new thing in the Human Resources sphere - or perhaps the latest resurrected old thing - is screening for emotional intelligence. EQ, say the experts, is at least as important as IQ. Honesty, empathy, reliability and general interpersonal skills are are at a premium now in the corporate world, which itself has ironically become notorious for its mendacity, insensitivity and inconstancy. It could be that corporations have sensed their own shortcomings and are seeking to mend their ways, but I very much doubt that. Emotional intelligence is one of those traits that can only be judged subjectively, and subjective judgment has ruled business hiring ever since Wall Street bigwigs would take on some swell just because they liked "the cut of his jib". If emotional intelligence is used as an explicit hiring criterion, it would very likely result in a diminishment of workplace diversity rather than the reverse. We tend to judge social skills - when to speak, what to say, how to say it, when eye contact is appropriate and when not, how to cross or uncross our legs - based on specific cultural norms, and people from different cultures may fare unpredictably despite their best intentions. The taste and personality of the interviewer would also have a significant impact. One person's Charm Boy, after all, can be another person's Social Imbecile. The overriding tendency would be for like to choose like, and EQ assessment might only serve to consolidate "group-think" within an organization rather than nurture the open-mindedness that accompanies true caring.

It would also serve us well to remember that those who are likely to do best in an informal EQ assessment may simply be those who are most skilled at dissimulation. Such folks are otherwise known as sociopaths. Who wouldn't prefer to work with the smiling and witty Ted Bundy rather than the homely and obnoxious Bill Gates, if they were both twenty-one and their future actions were unknown? Turning to written EQ tests may seem like a sound tactic to some, but this strategy is scarcely a new one. It is comically anachronistic, and evokes the Orwellian subjection of job candidates to MMPI tests and the like during the 1950's. There is nothing new under the sun. The very fact that such tests are no longer so commonly administered should be a red flag to anyone who wishes to use them again.

Looking for "emotional intelligence" in those we choose to work with, as well as in those we wish to love, is something we all do automatically, whether consciously or not. To elevate it to an official policy reeks of the deification of bullshit.

"`Emotional intelligence' a new hiring criterion" from The Boston Globe

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